Christmas traditions in Puerto Rico are lively and fun, yet intimately combined with spiritual practices and a reverence for the holiday season. By understanding these customs, it is possible to embrace the Puerto Rican culture whether you want to add an international flair to your celebrations, become connected to your heritage, or simply learn more about a fascinating culture.
About Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a small island archipelago in the western Caribbean and is part of the Greater Antilles. As a commonwealth of the U.S., Puerto Rico is not independent, but it does have a unique and expressive culture that combines rich traditions from the U.S., Jamaica, and Cuba, as well as influences from French, Spanish, Italian, and South American immigrants. These multiple influences give Puerto Rico traditions a unique and colorful vibe, and create a joyous and charismatic holiday season.
The majority of Puerto Ricans practice the Roman Catholic religion, and therefore many of the island's Christmas traditions are familiar to other Christian practices. At the same time, however, Puerto Rico has a good percentage of Islamic and Jewish citizens, and many native Puerto Ricans practice African tribal religions as well. All of these faiths can be found in the island's holiday customs.
Celebrating Christmas Traditions in Puerto Rico
Christmas in Puerto Rico is more than just one day with good food, gifts, and spending time with friends and family members.
The holiday season in Puerto Rico begins as early as late November and continues until mid-January with a series of related celebrations and holidays. Some of the most significant include:
- December 25: Christmas Day is a public holiday in Puerto Rico and businesses are typically closed. This is a day for spending time with close friends and family members.
- December 28: This is the Day of the Holy Innocents and commemorates the day that King Heron ordered the slaying of male children in Bethlehem. Special masses are held on this day.
- December 31: New Year's Eve is a time of new beginnings throughout the world, and in Puerto Rico legend says that anyone who can eat 12 grapes during the chimes announcing the New Year will have good luck.
- January 6: Three King's Day, or Dia de Reyes, celebrates the magis' visit to the Christ child. This is a day when children will leave cut grass or hay beneath the Christmas tree as a gift for the tired camels. Gifts are left for children on this evening, and throughout the day the Governor's Mansion in San Juan is open to the public with refreshments, music, decorations, and toys for the children.
Music is an important part of many Christmas traditions in Puerto Rico. Not only do many religious masses include sacred carols, but traveling groups of parrandas will visit family members and friends while playing lively Latin and salsa carols on bongo drums, guitars, and other instruments. At each home, revelers celebrate for a time with more music before moving on to the next destination, and the group of musicians will grow with each visit.
Holy masses are a very spiritual part of many Puerto Rican Christmas celebrations. During the nine days up to Christmas Day, devout individuals will attend "Misa de Aguinaldo" daily to celebrate different holy carols and holiday messages. A midnight mass on Christmas Eve is also popular.
Food is a vital part of the holiday traditions of many countries, including Puerto Rico. Popular dishes include roast pig, rice and pea dishes, coquito or eggnog made with rum and coconut milk, coconut custard, fried plantains, and nuts. Many families also celebrate with unique dishes only made during the holiday season.
Christmas trees, colored lights, and poinsettia plants are popular decorations during the holiday season in Puerto Rico, as are wooden carvings of different saints and the nativity scene. Special clothing may also be worn as part of holiday decorations, such as the straw hats traditionally worn by parrandas.
Adding Puerto Rican Traditions to Your Home
It is easy to add Puerto Rican holiday traditions to your home, whether you are celebrating your own unique culture or embracing a new one.
- Try traditional foods as part of your holiday menu, such as coconut custard or rum cake.
- Go caroling with family members and friends, and include some Latin-inspired carols as part of the music.
- Celebrate the holiday season into the New Year and enjoy Three Kings' Day on January 6.
- Send Christmas cards with a Caribbean flair and wish everyone "Feliz Navidad". Spanish is one of the official languages of Puerto Rico and it is the most widely spoken.
From festive music to lengthy celebrations to rich foods, Christmas traditions in Puerto Rico are heavily influenced by a number of religious and cultural factors. With such a rich culture, there is a bit of holiday cheer from Puerto Rico that everyone can celebrate.